Our expert says:
There was a time where any exercise during pregnancy was frowned upon – it simply was not done, it was considered harmful to the mother and the baby. But as knowledge as evolved, evidence has emerged that in fact, the RIGHT exercise, done the RIGHT WAY, can be beneficial to both. For example, the mother can expect to gain less weight during her pregnancy, have greater energy reserves, a shorter active phase of labour, be less prone to gestational diabetes and recover from labour sooner. Current research shows that the babies born to an active mother have higher AGPAR scores and have healthier birth weights.
First things first, before starting any exercises during pregnancy, medical permission is vital and so I would suggest getting clearance from a doctor or gynaecologist before starting up. This is crucial, and once it’s obtained, it’s advisable to keep monitoring it with the doctor, at all times.
Then, in terms of what to do, it depends a lot on what the exercise routine was like before pregnancy. It's usually safe to just continue with a similar exercise routine at a lower intensity if you were active before pregnancy. If not, then it obviously complicates things a little because there's the dual challenge of getting fit and handling the various physiological changes associated with pregnancy at the same time.
However, the key is intensity and most exercises are safe provided they are done at a well-controlled intensity, which usually means take it easy! Pregnancy is hardly the time to get fit and improve performance. Nor is it the time to suddenly embark on the weight loss programme that you’d been meaning to tackle for the previous two years! Rather, exercise during pregnancy is all about maintaining, keeping healthy and preparing – the weight loss and fitness can come later.
There are a couple of hotspots or potential problem stages during pregnancy. The first and third trimester are the more risky phases, for different reasons.
In the first trimester, when incredible growth and development is taking place for the baby, it’s important to bear in mind that the baby has a core temperature 1 degree higher than you do. And so when you start to push up the intensity too much your core temperature goes up and consequently so does the baby’s. It is therefore also important that you keep cool during exercise wearing loose clothing and make sure you don’t overdo it and train too hard – remember, the main thing determining your body temperature is how hard you exercise, so take it easy! Also try to exercise in early morning or the evening when it is cooler.
As the pregnancy moves on, the problems become more practical in nature – balance is affected, because your centre of mass changes, and the body also starts to produce a hormone called relaxin, which makes the ligaments much more flexible and lax. The combination of these changes means that joint injuries and small aches and pains become much more prominent. For this reason, activities that are dynamic and quite high impact (like running, aerobics, taebo etc) are probably best phased out from your training. Insteady, things like cycling, swimming, pilates, and weight training may be better options. This is of course entirely dependent on your unique situation – some mothers walk or run into month nine. Others find they can’t and shift to swimming by about the 7th month! Swimming, and water aerobics are two of the best forms of exercise, highly recommended for later in pregnancy. Also, if you are in the gym, avoid heavy weight lifting where you have to strain and hold your breath to lift the weight – rather go lighter and don’t strain.
Here are some additional guidelines for exercise:
• Avoid exercises that involve lying on your back after the 4th month (after the first trimester) as the pregnant uterus may compress the aorta and cause a decrease of blood flow to the fetus.
• Avoid exercise in which there is danger of loss of balance.
• Avoid long periods of motionless standing
• It is NOT recommended that you start an exercise programme in the first trimester if you have been previously inactive.
As your pregnancy progresses and you start to feel more tired you can move your training into the pool and take up swimming or aqua aerobics, which you will find very soothing during the final months of your pregnancy.
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